No. 6: Trade zone designation leads development efforts

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A cargo ship loaded with containers is shown at the Port of Virginia in Norfolk, Va. The U.S. Commerce Department has announced that seven northeastern counties have been added to the port's Foreign-Trade Zone.


From staff reports

Monday, December 26, 2016

Editor’s note: Our lookback at the top stories of 2016 continues.

The Albemarle saw continued signs of economic growth in 2016 with the announcement of a number of planned projects and initiatives.

To begin, there was the announcement in early December that the U.S. Department of Commerce had added northeastern North Carolina to the Port of Virginia’s Foreign Trade Zone. Area officials said the inclusion of seven area counties — Pasquotank, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Gates, Hertford and Perquimans — was one more reason for manufacturers with international supply chains to locate in the region. 

Wayne Harris, director of the Elizabeth City-Pasquotank County Economic Development Commission, welcomed the news, explaining in an interview earlier this month that  inclusion in a foreign trade zones means big savings for companies whose manufacturing requires a lot of imports. In an FTZ, a “fairly typical manufacturer” with 50 employees and 250 customs entries a year could save over $30,000 a year just in reduced reporting on shipments, he estimated.

Similarly, Camden County Economic Developer Charlie Bauman said earlier this month that the FTZ fits into a “convergence” of good news for the local economy. It's also another “tool in the toolbag” for Camden to recruit manufacturers, such as in the logistics and maritime sectors, he said. 

There were also several substantial development projects that either were announced or that got underway in the region in 2016.

In September, Camden County officials joined William Owens of the Camden Realty Group in breaking ground on the Camden Towne Center, a project near the intersection of U.S. Highway 158 and N.C. Highway 343 that took almost 10 years to start.

Michael McLain, then chairman of the Camden Board of Commissioners, said the Camden Towne Center project will create 30 jobs, and noted the county helped pay for infrastructure at the site.

In December, Bauman reported that business space at Camden Towne Center was filling up quickly. He said 75 percent of the space was already leased. Owens has said that a fifth location for the the Elizabeth City-based Todd’s Pharmacy will be the anchor store for the first phase of the project.

In Currituck County in October, construction began on the H2OBX waterpark in Powells Point.

The park will be located about three miles north of the Wright Memorial Bridge. Once opened, developer Arthur Berry said the park will create more than 200 full-time and seasonal jobs. 

“We will employ numerous local folks on the operations side. We will need people for lifeguards, ticketing, retail, food and beverage and bartending,” Berry said in October. “There will be a lot of really fun jobs for young folks. When they're off for summer, that's when we're open.”

The first phase of the waterpark will be located on about 20 acres and cost about $45 million to build. The park’s developers say it will be open next May in time for Memorial Day.

In Elizabeth City, developer Mark Gregory of Masuki, Inc., received approval in March to build 216 “market value” apartments on a 21-acre site bounded by Halstead Boulevard and Body Road. The project, designed to increase the housing stock in the city for younger workers, represented a $20 million investment on the local tax base and would generate $1.3 million in sewer impact fees.

Despite its impact on the local economy, the project generated protest from homeowners in the nearby Millbrooke subdivision. During several council meetings, Millbrooke residents claimed that having an apartment complex next door would bring noise, crime and traffic problems, and also threaten their property values.

Residents initially seemed to win their fight. Council voted down Gregory’s annexation request, but the decision caused a stir among the project’s supporters, who noted its benefits. After city staff advised council that it had few grounds to refuse Gregory’s apartment project, several councilors who had opposed it reversed their positions in late March and gave the project its needed approvals.

At year’s end the project seemed in limbo. Gregory had not yet purchased the property needed for the project, but planned to do so in February 2017, a real estate broker said. 

Down in Hertford, the federal government released funds needed to build an extra large boat ramp to accommodate both recreational and commercial activity on the Perquimans River. The allotment followed several months of delays.

Construction on the boat ramp was expected to begin this month and should be complete by early spring, Perquimans officials confirmed.

The project has been in the works for more than five years. It started with plans to build a regular boat ramp next to the Perquimans County Recreation Center, but that area of the Perquimans River proved to be too shallow.

2016 also saw the start of efforts to bring brewpubs to Edenton and Elizabeth City, new businesses officials hope will bring more young people to both towns’ downtowns.

In Edenton, the town council voted this summer to meet with a Raleigh businessman interested in buying the town-owned Conger Building and converting it into a brewpub. Brewpubs generally are small, craft breweries that produce small amounts of beer for both on-premises consumption and off-premises sale.

The Edenton council decided to meet with developer John Glover after initially voting not to sell him the building over concerns, among other things, about the proximity of a potential brewpub to a public park. At year’s end, town officials were hoping to set up a meeting between Glover and town council to discuss the brewpub project further.

In Elizabeth City, City Council voted in October to approve Downtown Improvement Grant requests for two microbrewery projects. One DIG grant, for $20,000, will help George Jackson of Shingle Landing convert the building at 606B Colonial Avenue into a nanobrewery and tasting room operated by the Ghost Harbor Brewing Company.

Council also OK’d a $17,320 grant for Dean Schaan’s project to renovate the facade of the Fowler building at 113 N. Water Street for a future microbrewery. Schaan is planning a multi-phase, $500,000 project to restore the building and turn it into a microbrewery employing four full-time and six part-time workers.